Truth, belief, and faith – three legs on the stool of human endeavor. We seem to require all three but only truth can be measured and verified. Some people will get all up in arms about at that statement. They will say that I am challenging their faith. I am not. I am only saying that truth requires proof – whereas faith does not.
Here is a story I heard in a philosophy class at the University of Missouri, Kansas City:
There is a television show called “The 64,000 Question”. In one particular episode a lady contestant is asked, “What year did George Washington die?”
She answered “1799”. The bells and whistles rang out, lights flashed, and the host proclaimed the woman a winner of the $64,000 question.
The woman is asked, “Why did you say 1799?”
She answers, “Well, I just knew it was a long time ago, so I said 1799”.
Examine that response. Did she know the answer? Did she have faith in her answer? No and no. She neither knew nor had faith – she just took a guess.
What if she answered, “Well, I knew Washington was the first President and I knew he died after he left office, so I said 1799.
Examine that response. Did she know the answer? Did she have faith in her answer? I still say no and no. She did not sound too confident – I don’t think she would have bet any money on her answer. She did not know and she did not have faith.
What if she answered, “I remember reading about George Washington in high school history class. Our text book said Washington died in 1799.” In this case we can say she had strong faith in her answer. But scholars would argue that high school history books are notoriously flawed. An example for my St. Joe, Missouri, readers – only a few years ago a high school history book used nationwide reported the Pony Express started in St. Louis. She had faith but because of her source scholars would say that she did not have knowledge – because truth (knowledge) must be verifiable.
OK – so what if she answered, “I have a PhD. in Early American History. My doctoral thesis was on George Washington. I have been to Mount Vernon. I saw his grave marker. I went to the county courthouse and looked up his death certificate. I read the newspapers from that time. There are no documents signed by Washington after 1799.” Okay – can we say she had faith in her answer? Yes – absolutely! Can we say she knew 1799 to be the truth? My opinion is yes – she had enough information to claim knowledge.
To claim truth, to claim knowledge, to claim to know something, is a claim that can be challenged. If you say, “I know this to be true,” then we have the right to say, prove it. Truth can be proven.
Faith, by definition, does not require proof. If you say, “I have faith in this”. I can say that I disagree – but you have the right to have faith without having to prove anything to anyone.
The big question is this: At what point does further proof become absurd? That depends on the consequences. In the case of the woman with the $64,000 question we might say, “Who cares if she knew the answer or only had faith?” There is no consequence. But when we study history the facts, the truth, is very important. If we want to understand an event for the sake of having newfound wisdom that protects us from making the same mistake then we must demand verification. When we study science the facts, the truth, is critical.
People believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth for thousands of years. They held this belief to be true. They suffered no real consequences other than delaying our understanding of the universe. The movement of the Sun was close enough to plant their crops and understand seasons and to generally get on with their lives. They had faith in the Sun showing up when it was needed. They were wrong in their belief, their faith – but so what?
Fast forward to the 21st Century. Knowing the truth about the Earth revolving around the Sun is essential to sending a man to the moon, or to mars. It is also essential to understanding calculus, to understanding gravity, to understanding light. Einstein’s theories would not work in the old model. We would have no television or internet.
To the point of ‘how much data do we need to call something true?’: Many would argue the high school history book was enough. But consider these two ‘theories’. The alt-right people today argue against evolution in favor of creationism. They argue that the “Big Bang” is just a theory – it is not truth. They argue that ‘climate change’ is misunderstood science – not enough data they say.
My personal notion is that we have enough data to verify the Big Bang. We have enough data to verify evolution. We have enough data to verify human affected climate change.
I will never challenge your faith – you have the right to believe anything you want. But if you claim truth or knowledge I will exercise my right to challenge your position.
This is important: You do not have to defend your faith. If someone challenges you, if they say, “Prove there is a God” (for instance), you have every right to say, “I do not have to prove my God to you. I have faith because that is what faith is – my faith is enough. I do not need your opinion.”
But to claim truth, to claim knowledge, requires proof.